The Grey

Director: Joe Carnahan

Notable Cast: Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson

Rating: R

Review: Well, mark Alaskan oil driller off the future jobs list, even with Liam Neeson protecting me, because my oh my nature can be a cruel bitch. The Grey states a nice resurgence for Carnahan, who flickered out after his most famous film Narc, but here shows much stronger command of story after some passable yet unexciting recent efforts. Liam Neeson gives an electrifying performance to boot, as he continues to ride out his bad boy phase. But it’s not like dull and overused Unknown Liam, instead the punctual and kick ass Liam who erupts in short bursts but with effective results. The Grey is yet another example of bleak situations mixed with even harsher results, but integrity and message is still carried on despite the grave reality. Emotionally hooked in each character’s life, The Grey challenges why bad things happen to good people, but even more importantly how good people cope with undeserving circumstances. Fate? Luck? Chance? Or is it simply just life…

John Ottway (Neeson) works for a petroleum company, playing guard for the drill workers. In the wilds of Alaska, vicious wolves threaten the safety of oil drillers on a daily basis, and it’s up to John and his sniper rifle to prevent such harm from coming to defenseless employees. Lonely and missing a female companion he frequently reminisces about, John struggles with the isolation, but presses on day by day. Finally, the crew gets a trip back to Anchorage in order to get a little rest, as company members board the rickety plane. John dozes off, wanting just to relax, but is jolted awake when the plane ices over and crashes somewhere on the desolate, frozen Alaskan tundra. With no location or direction, John gathers the remaining survivors and starts using his nature expertise to focus on living. But just as the men get comfortable around the wreck, aggressive wolves are added to the equation and the survival plan changes. John must brave the weather, seek civilization, and now battle an onslaught of wolves if he ever wants another chance at life.

Yes, give in to the Neeson….

The Grey was an emotional tour de force given there was no malevolent being, just mother nature. Liam Neeson proves yet again what a powerful actor he is, playing the outdoorsy hero, peering straight into death’s eyes (see above picture). The character of John was not your typical action hero, just about macho and killing. Yes, John has all the traits of a good leader, but his grounded sense of realism makes the character seem so human. The drama and tension of the situation is brought out when the person in charge puts prayers and fate in perspective, believing only in life or death. John was going to fight until the very end, because who knew after that? We get a sense of Neeson’s character’s grim but sensible outlook when the plane first crashes and he doesn’t hesitate telling an injured survivor death awaits him. Calmly, with a straight face John says “you’re going to die,” and coaches a man through the process, saving the false hopes and lies for the weak. Carnahan does a wonderful job not sugar-coating the situation for us, and digs deep into the depressing psyche of what is occurring, aiding in Neeson’s effectiveness. The shots Joe sets up work in a Fargo-ish type of sprawling nothingness, to the point of Neeson and the others being minuscule dots against a vibrant white canvas. Hope waivers, lives are put in perspective, the characters start to appear more as subjects; and all set up by ominous visual.

What Carnahan does magnificently well is establish edge of your seat excitement with pulse-pounding tension, all in a minimalistic sense. So I commented on these crazy shots depicting full-grown men looking like tiny ants on a massive scale, but where the insanity heightens has nothing to do with the humans. Carnahan not only made his wolves veracious, but human and relatable. Yes, these deadly beasts hunted the survivors one by one, but were most effective shown in the same light as Neeson’s crew. One shot specifically starts out with the humans trudging through nothing bust dense snow. Suddenly, out of nowhere, wolves start advancing from both sides, entering the same shot as Neeson. Remember Jurassic Park: The Lost World when we see the top down view of the tall grass, feeling sympathy for the blissfully ignorant hunters oblivious to the advancing raptors? Well, in The Grey, take away the surprise, and show our characters their rapidly closing fate, and watch tension skyrocket. The drama was built off reaction from the characters, having no choice but to run and pray for their lives. Screw contemporary horror, these wolves were something from a nightmare, but only acting based on instinct, making it hard to muster hate towards them. No crime was committed. Is that enough to forgive them for their bloody actions?

As we learn of each character’s family life, the dark nature of The Grey comes to light. Why do family men and good people deserve such a horrific fate? Neeson’s character watches up-standing gentlemen die right in front of him, being powerless in their safety. This is the hardest and most gut-wrenching part of The Grey, and the most impressive point emotionally. There’s no explanation except “the word is f#cked,” which is a depressing yet interesting topic for one of Carnahan’s best efforts. It’s amazing how a film so simple can be so engulfing via scenery, as the vast frost ridden wasteland was like a form of purgatory for our once blessed characters. As each story is uncovered, and each family history is unearthed, we build a personal connection to each survivor, wishing their baby girl or loving wife can see their doomed one in the future. The only problem? Neeson and company tend to drag on a tad at the two-hour run time, something easily ignored by those distracted with fancy camera work and expert character acting though. The Grey proves to be a relentless and compassion-less thriller, one that chills to the bone and numbs the senses. I say all that in the ut-most respect, of course, as Carnahan evokes some pretty hidden feelings via a cold, frigid film.

Final Rating: 8 evil bastard wolves out of 10

Note to self, hanging out with Liam Neeson doesn’t usually end well for anyone else…


About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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